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Texas Wrongful Death Arising out of Train and Parade Float Collision

railroad trackIn a recent Texas appellate case, the plaintiff appealed in a lawsuit arising out of the death of four veterans in a flatbed trailer during a parade. A train hit their parade float and killed them.

In 2012, two tractor-trailers pulled flatbed trailers that were floats in the parade. Twelve vets and their wives were sitting on top of the trailers. One vet would later testify that as the first tractor-trailer went over the tracks, he heard the railroad crossing bell. Warning lights were activated. He thought the train was stopped, but later he could see it was moving fast and would hit the second tractor-trailer.

The train was about 2,500 feet away from the crossing when the engineer on the train saw the first tractor-trailer go through the crossing. He made a remark to the conductor but didn’t slow the train. Soon afterward, when the train was about 1,200 feet away, the second trailer went through the railroad crossing. The crew beeped the train horn. An emergency brake was applied when the train was close to the crossing, but the brakes weren’t engaged until the train was about to hit the tractor-trailer at 62 mph.

The families of three of the vets brought suit for wrongful death and personal injuries. They claimed the railroad had violated federal regulations.

The trial court granted partial summary judgment to the railroad company. It went to trial on their remaining claim of negligence on the part of a train crew, but the trial court made a ruling about expert evidence that the plaintiffs’ attorney believed was equal to a directed verdict for the railroad. Summary judgment was later granted in favor of the railroad company.

The plaintiffs appealed, arguing that it was improper to grant summary judgment on their warning time claims, to grant summary judgment based on federal preemption against the claim of negligence by the crew, and to grant summary judgment based on their gross negligence claims.

The plaintiffs argued their warning time claim was exempt from preemption because the railroad had violated the regulations that established the federal standard of care, and it hadn’t complied with other regulations about the warning time. The federal warning time regulation governed the amount of notice needed between the flashing of warning lights at the crossing and the train getting to the crossing. The plaintiffs argued the warning lights should have gone off sooner.

The plaintiffs and the defendant disagreed about how to interpret the law. The railroad argued that the programmed design of the warning system required only 25 seconds warning, and the regulation itself only required 20. The appellate court disagreed with the plaintiffs’ interpretation about the original design for the warning system. The railroad had set the warning time at 25 seconds, which included a five-second buffer that made the minimum warning time more than what was legally required. It concluded the warning lights performed the way the federal regulations required.

It also found that this issue disposed of the gross negligence claim, which was based on the warning time claim. It also found that the train crew’s observation of the first tractor-trailer that crossed the tracks didn’t show a collision was about to happen with the second one. It overruled the train crew negligence issue and affirmed the lower court’s ruling.

If a loved one dies as a result of negligence, the San Antonio wrongful death attorneys at Carabin & Shaw may be able to represent you and develop a sound strategy for handling your case. Call our office for more information at 1-800-862-1260.

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